Ranch Redux: A Ranch Done Wright

Adventures in Framing Part 1: Feathers Fly

July 24, 2011

Framing is the best of times and the worst of times.  It really is wonderful to see the walls go up so fast.  In a matter of hours Tim, J., and Charlie can frame a room.  I can see the spaces materialize as if by magic, but it is really stressful.  Every morning at 8:00 a.m. J. and Charlie come by to begin their work.  Immediately the compressor roars to life and the nail guns begin their tattoo.  I love the progress, but, not being a morning person, I hate the disturbance of the peace.

We really have it as good as it gets.  We have known J. for about a decade and he is a friend.  Charlie is a great guy too.  They are very mindful about the fact we live here and are conscientious about keeping the house secure and inhabitable.  I have heard horror stories about other people’s remodels so I know we have a good thing going.

There are times though when I think I am going to jump out of my skin.  Like when J. and Charlie cut the trusses.  Our house, pre remodel, had interior curtain walls.  The bearing walls are on the outside perimeter.  The thing that holds up the exterior, bearing walls are the triangular trusses running the width of the house.  In order to put up the second floor J. and Charlie have to cut the base of the trusses, remove segment of the triangle where the second floor will be, and reinforce the part of the trusses that will remain.  In order to do this they had to prop up the outside walls and remove most of the roof shingles and plywood.  This reduces the weight that the trusses have to carry.   I was pretty worried about this; afraid the walls would come tumbling down.  J. and Charlie kept on bolstering the existing roof until Tim and I were satisfied and then successfully cut the trusses. Miraculously what was left of the roof did not fall down.

Living without a roof, under the stars sounds nice, but it has its drawbacks.  Right now there is no rain forecasted for the next week or so, but if it rained we would be in deep bandini!  Also there are the mosquitoes.  We don’t have many mosquitoes in Southern California, but those we do have are enjoying a blood banquet here.  Then there is the noise.   During the day I don’t notice as much because we are making our own racket, but at night we can hear everything.  It actually is louder inside the house than outside.  The train sounds like it is coming down the street instead of a mile away.  We hear cars and planes and the boom, boom of the marines at Camp Pendleton practicing for World War III.  But the thing that makes me feel the most vulnerable, what keeps me up at night, is the fear of zombies.  Without a roof we are helpless in the face of an invasion of the undead.  As I lie in bed trying to sleep with the new sounds and mosquitoes buzzing I imagine hoards of zombies amassing, eager to feast on our brains!

Needless to say, I am not sleeping well these nights.  Last week I decided if I can’t sleep well, at least I can sleep long, so I went to bed really early.  At about 2 in the morning I heard an unusual noise and jumped up to investigate.  My nocturnal investigations are not uncommon and usually Moe, the cat, barely awakens from his slumbers, but this time Moe was really agitated.  He was pacing back and forth, looking out of the window, running up and down the temporary stairs.  I thought that he was upset because there was a cat fight outside that he wanted to get into it with the Calico Killer.  Then I heard the chickens squawk.  Chickens generally roost silently from dusk to dawn, so I knew something was amiss.  I threw open the back door and yelled toward the chicken coop not knowing what predator was trying to eat our sweet little pets.


Tim stumbled out of our room bewildered and concerned. “Get the flashlight Tim!  I think someone is eating our chickens!”  Tim ran back to get the flashlight and we both charged out the back door barefoot and in our pajamas.  The cat followed nonchalantly behind us.  The flashlight illuminated a huge possum sitting on the roosting bar in the henhouse.  I thought that was the end of the girls until I swung the light around and Toto, who we call “The Enforcer,” charged toward me, wings out, clucking like crazy. Her offense isn’t much of a defense, but it is impressive nonetheless.  “It’s OK Toto. It is only me.” I reached down and she, recognizing my voice, immediately quieted and let me pet her.   I think the girls have imprinted on me and think I am their big chicken momma.  I began the search for Yoshi and saw her cowering against the back fence.  Tim said quietly, “T. the possum is chewing on something.” I had a ridiculous mental image run through my head of a cartoon possum chewing on a cooked chicken leg. Luckily Yoshi was standing on two legs and I didn’t see any blood, but couldn’t tell if Yoshi was hurt or not.  I was pretty sure Toto was O.K.


So now Tim and I are faced with a dilemma.  We have a snarling, hissing possum high in the henhouse and the chickens are afoot.  We couldn’t just leave them like that.  Tim tried to get the possum out by hitting it with a rake, but it just wedged itself higher in the rafters.  Tim said “We need to dispatch this possum… We could shoot him.”  We are really close to our neighbors and if a shot rang out in the middle of the night five or six 911 calls would follow.  I could imagine the SWAT team surrounding the house, the helicopter circling, and the loudspeaker telling us to “come out with your hands up!”   We rejected that idea at once, not wanting to initiate such a ridiculous scene.  We have a ton of tools around; Tim said he could hack the possum to death with a shovel or something, but neither Tim nor I had the stomach for that, so we turned the flashlight off and two hens, two humans, and a cat waited for the possum to make his move.


“I think he moved.” Tim whispered.  Sure enough we heard rustling in the coop.  Tim handed me a rake. “Just in case he comes your way.”  The thought of an angry possum running scared in my direction was not comforting, but at least I had a rake.  The possum thumped down on the floor of the chicken coop, ran out the door, and disappeared into the honeysuckle. Success! The Chicken Defense Force met the enemy and prevailed!  We put the girls back in the henhouse, locked their door, and went back inside our house.


It was really hard to get back to sleep after waging (not so) mortal combat with an oversized marsupial.  While I was tossing and turning I went back to fretting about possible rain storms, mosquitoes, and of course impending zombie attacks.  If it looks like rain we can always staple up a tarp, and while we are so open we really can’t do much about mosquitoes except scratch.  What about the zombies?! I think I will take my friend Leah’s advice about the zombies: “keep the lights low and the noise level down, and hope they are sluggish.”


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The End of My Rope

July 10, 2011

Planning and executing a major remodel is like planning for an expedition through hostile territory.  Tim looks at it like a military campaign, but I see it more like a long complicated, mountaineering adventure.  We trek through mountain passes, climb heights and then have to belay down them.  Tim is unfazed by all the setbacks we have had.  He manages to put a positive spin on everything.  I am not always so optimistic.  I often find myself near the end of my rope.

Starting this project I had coils and coils of fine cord ready for action.  I was looking forward to this adventure with zeal even.  Along the trail there were times when things were so difficult I felt the rope slipping through my fingers at a pretty rapid pace.  Like the morning when I woke up on our 27th wedding anniversary to find the inside trenches filled with water.  Luckily Corrina and Sam came in the next couple of days filling me with joy and replenishing my line.  I saw the end of my rope close at hand the day we found out our car was stolen, but the kindness of our friends and family kept me from reaching the end.

Two weeks ago we had a serious setback where my line was slipping so fast through my hands it gave me rope burn and had me clinging desperately to the last frayed end.  The back room which in turns we have used as a dining room, Tim’s shop, and our den had to be torn down because it was so poorly constructed.   We knew the room was built on a patio slab rather than a proper foundation, and that we would have to retrofit it,  but we didn’t know just how bad it was until Tim and J began to frame the opening for the new sliding glass door.  The room had a three foot high brick base with wood framed walls above it.  We always assumed there would be some anchoring of the bricks to the slab.  What Tim and J found was that there were no anchor bolts, or rebar, not even wooden dowels holding the bricks in place.  The only things keeping the walls upright were the drywall and the roof.

Up until then I was always fond of the previous owner of the house, Ted.  Ted was a colonel in the marines and was the original owner.  He was at the house when Tim, the kids, and I toured it for the first time.  Corrina and Sam went through the house picking out which bedroom they wanted.  They were particularly charming that day, no bickering and no fights.  Ted showed us around taking us through the dining room.  I remember asking if the room was permitted and Ted saying yes. Pants on fire Ted!  He showed us the playhouse that he had built for his grandchildren.  He seemed like such a lovely older gentleman.  Later when we were all moved in we heard from neighbors that he accepted our offer, even though ours was not the highest, because he wanted to sell to a nice family. Yes we always liked the colonel.

At some point Ted decided to remodel the kitchen and add a formal dining room to the house for his beloved wife.  We knew after living in his dream kitchen for thirteen years that he was one to pinch the pennies.  The range was weak and the pull-out drawers in the cabinets were pathetic, but we didn’t know how cheap he was until we started demolishing the back room.  J. and Charlie started the demo by taking off the roof.  Once that was done, they literally pushed the walls over.  Ted spared every expense in the building of that room.

I was very upset about the extra time and money it will take to rebuild the back room.  Really it is less about the money.  My dad always said that any problem you can solve with money can’t be that bad.  What really bugs me is the ridiculous waste.  We spent hours in that room, eating meals, watching T.V., playing scrabble, and generally enjoying life.  For less than $100 Ted could have made that room safe to occupy, but instead he created what, in a bad earthquake, could have been a death trap.

So there I was at the bitter end when three things happened in rapid succession to add to my store of rope.  First, Tim found a salvaged maple top for our kitchen island.  There is a secret place in Orange County where Tim has found wonderful salvaged tools and shop furniture.  He won’t let me put the name of the place in my blog, but suffice to say it is a hidden jewel.  The four and a half by seven foot maple top was originally in a school library.  It came fully loaded with gum on the bottom and graffiti on the top.  Tim plans to refinish it to make it look new, but in the meanwhile I am thoroughly enjoying it, rough as it is.

I immediately started looking for counter stools on the internet.  All of the stools I wanted were beautifully mid-century and outrageously expensive.  I came upon a website for school supplies (http://www.nationalpublicseating.com/science_lab_stools.htm) and found some pretty good looking counter stools for only $75.00 apiece. We ended up buying four counter stools.  When they arrived, they were heavy duty with that post-industrial look.  It really got me thinking about what other things I can get at school supply stores.

The second good thing was when Tim and Rich started grinding the cement floors.  We knew we wanted to keep our cement floors, but I didn’t want it to look like the floors at Home Depot or Trader Joes.  I wanted a shiny, finished product.  To achieve this effect it took a huge amount of effort.  I have bad allergies and hate carpet, so we ripped up all the carpet and painted the cement floors as soon as we moved in.  So now we had to scrape up all of that paint.  What a hassle that was!

Then Rich and Tim rented a cement grinder to start the grinding process.  It looked pretty good, clean and flat, but it wasn’t the look I was hoping for.  So they rented a polishing system that went through progressively finer grits until the cement is shiny and smooth like a granite counter top.   It is a beautiful floor treatment, but it is not for the faint of heart.  The grinding is loud and extremely dusty.  At first we were really worried that the finish could be scratched so we walked in bare feet and obsessively cleaned the floor.  After a few days we realized that the floor is concrete for god’s sake!  It is super tough.



The last good thing that has happened in the past week is that Tim, J, and Charlie began framing.  I left the house on Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. and there were no interior walls and came back at 5:00 p.m. and the downstairs had a definite structure!  I love framing.  It is fast and very satisfying to see the progress.

We still have weeks of framing to go, and we still have to rebuild the back room, what will be our dining room.  There are months of finish work to go.  We really are nowhere near the end of our expedition, more like the middle, but I my supply of rope has been replenished and I am ready to continue the trek.








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The Beat Goes On (And On, and On)

July 1, 2011
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It is surprising how you can get used to uncomfortable things so quickly and so completely that you begin to think of them as normal.  It really hit me when Tim was pouring the entryway.  The front door to the old house was inset about ten feet from the front of the house.

The new plan calls for the entryway to be flush with the house.  In order to be able to lock the door, be secure at night, and still be able to work on the slab, Tim and J moved the front door beyond the front of the house.  The temporary threshold was at ground level and the form for the foundation was at house level, so we couldn’t open the door all the way.  In fact, we could only open it about a foot. In order to get in the house, we could either squeeze through the small opening and navigate our way through the rebar or climb in and out of the window.

After the pour was completed and the rebar was covered with cement, it got easier to get in and out of the house.  At least we didn’t have to worry about getting tangled in the rebar, but we still couldn’t open the door all the way.  Tim is rarely bothered by anything uncomfortable, but this was really bugged him.  He said he wanted to put the front door back at the height of the slab, but I said why bother?  I was so used to climbing in and out of the window; it seemed like a waste of his time.  I thought we might as well wait until we frame up the new opening.  One Saturday, Joey, Jeffrey, Gus, and I went hiking in Torrey Pines and came back to find the door in its rightful place on the slab.  When I opened the door wide, I felt a wave of well-being flow through me.  I really didn’t know how awkward it was climbing through the window until I was able to open the door all the way.

I feel the same way about my new range.  The old range, even in its prime, only managed about 8,000 BTUs.  By the time we replaced it, the BTU count was probably around 5,000.  That didn’t stop us from making wonderfully complicated meals.  We always celebrate food related holidays like National Eggs Benedict Day.

To make pasta on the old stove I would put the big stock pot on to boil and then go to Trader Joes to get the pasta fixings.  By the time I came back home the water would just be starting to boil.

My new American Range has three 17,000 BTU burners, two 15,000 BTU burners, and one 9,000 BTU burners.  It is amazing!  I can boil water in record time!  My only complaint is it makes a booming sound when we heat up the oven.  It is not perfect, but pretty darn close.

I often wonder how we managed to cook anything on that old, weak, unreliable range and why we didn’t replace it long ago.  We just dealt with that old range and thought it was normal.  It is like the bad boyfriend I had in college that I put up with so long.  Looking back, I wonder why I dated him at all, but he did make me appreciate the good man I ended up marrying.

The inconvenience that, strangely, doesn’t bother me much at all is the kitchen sink we are using now.  Instead of a proper kitchen sink with a garbage disposal and a dishwasher that drains into it, we are using a stainless steel laundry sink.  It is not very big, but very deep and, when I do the dishes, water splashes everywhere.    I find myself in front of that sink doing dishes and daydreaming or reminiscing.

The other day I was reminded of a woman I knew in college.  She was really my friend Barbara’s friend.  I can’t remember her name, but she had a cat named Thorozine and a charming house.  She was a rare bird in that she was older, had a nicely decorated house instead of a student flat, and was married.  She invited Barbara and me over one time when her husband was at work and we hung out and ate a meal.  In those days I absolutely loathed doing dishes.  I felt like dirty dishes were somehow an affront to my very existence, but, after the meal, my good manners won out (Thanks mamacita) and I offered to do the dishes.  She graciously said to leave the dishes to her.  She claimed to like washing dishes because it was like taking her hands to the beach.

Most of the time I don’t mind dong dishes anymore even in our laundry sink.  It gives me a chance to meditate on the day’s activities, or plan how I am going to deal with the latest phase of our project.  Life goes on during the remodel.  We still celebrate all of the standard, and not so standard, holidays.

Joey still practices his saxophone.

I still send my hands to the beach and learn to accept the new normal.

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We are embarking on an adventure turning a boring little ranch house into a modern style remodel.